“Night and Day” is not your typical play. There is no damsel in distress, no heroic prince to come to the rescue and no sorcerer casting spells. It is not exactly a tragedy or a comedy. There is no naïve Juliet blinded in search of love and no handsome Romeo, bold and daring. “Night and Day” makes you uncomfortable, not content. The result is what you have left after peeling away the browning outer layers of an onion: raw flesh and rich substance.
Charles Mee, the revolutionary playwright of “Night and Day,” declares that: “There is no such thing as an original play.” This production is a part of Mee’s “(re)making project” which focuses on weaving together multiple plays while maintaining originality in abstract interpretations of them. “Night and Day” is a joint collaboration by the School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s Department of Theatre and Drama and the National Academy of Theater Arts in Krakow, Poland, and is directed by Malcolm Tulip and Dominika Knapik.
“Night and Day” is messy and disjointed. There are no firmly developed characters. Instead, ensemble members assume different roles for each scene. Most of the interpretation is up to the audience.
The play opens with a woman dreamily proclaiming that Mee’s version of “Day,” based on “Daphnis and Chloe” by Greek romanticist Longus, and “Night,” based on “Thyestes” by Roman tragic playwright Seneca, is version “2.0.” It’s new and improved, so to speak. It’s evident why: The entire production follows the plot of these ancient works only slightly.
Minutes into “Day,” viewers are confronted with confessions from the ensemble concerning intimate portrayals of their sex lives and miscarriages, among other topics. One member talks for a full minute about his experience with a prostitute, including the exact amount he paid her and for what services. An uncomfortable silence follows each of these monologues. Awkward laughter fills the air with uncertainty. Mee has mastered the art of pushing uncomfortable topics to the forefront, making us question why we stigmatize them to begin with.
Similar segments in the counterpart “Night” forces us to contemplate what we normally try and shuffle into the periphery. The stage is dark except for a long, rectangular table where four men sit. One recalls the time when his squad, during a war, invaded a home and killed an entire family until “no life remained in the house — a ‘family unit’ had been eliminated.” Another talks of killing two rapists in a tunnel and seeing the life leave their eyes. Dialogues like these made me want to clap my hands over my ears and shut myself out from the world.
No one wants to hear these things. No one wants to relive how terrible the world can be every single day. But topics like these are discussed so frequently in Mee’s work that they become normalized.
Mee’s constant portrayal of death and destruction raises an important question: Is modern human society actually civilized? If making a comparison to prior foraging societies, for example, most would say yes. We now have agriculture: a means to produce our own food instead of obtain it elsewhere. We have technology and science, but with our capacity to kill and hate, how are we any different from those we consider “uncivilized?” Our human nature is the same at its roots; we are still capable of war, and we still have insecurities. We now have complex societies linking us together, but very little has changed.
During “Night,” an “uncivilized” man caked in charcoal and blood moves in slow motion about the stage, contorting in different positions among the feet of the “civilized” dressed in suits. While the civilized feast and clatter their spoons and forks, the “uncivilized” man doesn’t join, but instead remains at their feet like a servant. He tries to confront a “civilized” man, approaching him slowly and purposefully, but ends up falling into his arms instead in surrender: The “uncivilized” is no match for our modern world.
In Mee’s world, however, civilization and societal structure is the true enemy. The less coherent the world is, the better. “Night and Day” is purposefully jumbled up because there is security in expression that ignores the constraints and stigma of the world we like to consider “civilized.” Sometimes the world makes the most sense when there’s nothing holding us back.
“Night and Day” will continue to run Oct. 11-14 at the Arthur Miller Theater.